Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 23, 1967
NUMBER 45, PAGE 3,5b-8a

The Reign Of Heaven (Part I)

Bryan Vinson, Sr.

In the above heading there is discernible the most revolutionary idea with which man is confronted here on earth. Man originates here, but the proper rule over him is from above. The inspired observation of old that it is not within man to direct his own steps renders intensely significant the importance of this subject. It is obvious that his steps must hence be directed by another; and one so directing maybe from above or beneath, and the title of this piece suggests that from above. The finiteness and errancy of human nature constitutes the occasion for this need, and the failure of any responsible person to recognize this dependency is but an invitation to inevitable defeat in life's enduring purposes. We certainly can misdirect our steps, but only one who is wiser than we can properly direct us so as to bring to full fruition the purpose identified with our being. Four thousand years of human history detailing the experiences of our race, bore pointed and definite testimony to the truth of man's inability to properly direct and govern himself.

"In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:1-2.) In the preceding period of history there had been eras of God's rule, and thus qualifiedly a kingdom of God on earth. This passage introduces a reign as expressed differently-the kingdom of heaven. In the gospel of the four writers only Matthew employs this terminology. The other writers use frequently the expression, the kingdom of God, even in relation to the same thing as does Matthew in this distinctive term. While the two forms of expression refer to the same thing, yet there is a distinction in the thought conveyed by each. It could very readily be perceived that the kingdom of Israel was, in fact, the kingdom of God; it could not be visualized as being the kingdom of heaven, for it was essentially an earthly kingdom, political in its function and civil in its character. Such is not contemplated and suggested by this language of Matthew. Its employment by him, therefore, must be designedly intended to advance the radical character of the impending reign of God as distinguished from the antecedent rule among men. Herein lies the underlying cause of its rejection by the Jews; the concepts as thus expressed did not coincide with their expectations of a revived and vitalized kingdom of Israel.

The government of Israel was a theocracy, a rule by God through priests and prophets, and through judges and kings. It incorporated within its interests the political as well as the religious, and the latter were largely adumbrative in their character. For this reason it was not, nor could properly be, regarded as the kingdom of heaven. Further, its seat of government as humanly administered was on earth-Jerusalem being the location. The expression, then, of the kingdom of God was more elastic in its connotation than the one we are considering. This is nonetheless the kingdom of God. It has always been the pleasure of God to rule over the lives and in the hearts of man: The disposition and desire of Israel to have a king to be like the nations around them was interpreted by Jehovah as a rejection of Him rather than the aged Samuel. (1 Sam. 8:7) God gave them a king in His anger and took him away in His wrath. (Hos. 13:11) Their desire to be like other nations rather than being content with the divine order initiated their subsequent downfall.

The points prophetically enumerated as distinguishing the two covenants afford an insight to the radical differences between the two kingdoms respectively identified therewith. The first covenant was designed as an interim arrangement to function instructively with respect to that which was to come. "The law was our schoolmaster to being us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith has come we are no longer under a schoolmaster." (Gal. 3:24-25.) Too, "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Gal. 4:4-5.) The expression "the fulness of the time" presupposes a state of unreadiness previous thereto, and thus at this point, insofar as time is involved, a maturing of a purpose, a state of ripeness as pertains to the realization of this purpose. The Hebrew letter quotes from Jeremiah of the divine dissatisfaction with those under this first covenant, and the intention to establish a second and better one. In defining its character as being not according to the first, one superior element of distinction is that "I will put my laws into their mind and write them in their hearts". Since, then, the law-the expressed will of the king -is to be inscribed in the hearts of His subjects. There is to be recognized a direct relation between the king and his subject, wholly apart from any intermediary as functioning authoritatively in determining the duty of the subject. Further, the assurance voiced that their sins and iniquities would be remembered no more rendered more intimate and enduring the promised relation of Him being their God and they His people.

The Kingdom

With these preliminary considerations briefly noted I wish to enter directly into an examination of this theme. The Baptist came to prepare a people for the Lord, and the theme of his preaching was the coming kingdom. It was proclaimed as being at hand, hence not in the distant future. Whatever, therefore, this kingdom is to be it is not now future in its coming. This very expression precludes any possible truth as attaching to the future kingdom pretensions voiced by any today. Equally, too, is the idea of its beginning preceding the resurrection, ascension and coronation of Jesus as Lord and Christ at the right hand of God found to be wholly untenable. The very term "kingdom of heaven" creates an association of ideas whereby heaven itself is embodied therein, and any earthly founded and controlled kingdom is ruled out of all consideration thereby. Corresponding thereto was the instruction of Jesus respecting the manner of prayer to be voiced by those who were his disciples; "Our Father who art in heaven, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven--". This does not establish an identity of will as relates to those in heaven and those on earth, but it surely conveys the thought that He whose will controls and directs those in heaven shall be the one whose will as revealed by Christ, shall with equal respect, be the controlling and directing force in the lives of those here. And, too, be it noted that this is a thought growing out of and identified with "thy kingdom come". That is, the kingdom as thus contemplated shall be a rule from above and as so considered is found the significance of the term kingdom.

A body of people, the redeemed of the Lord, is viewed as citizens of this kingdom and as such are to be related thereto as subjects of the government of this kingdom. Being so viewed there immediately evolves the necessity of determining the proper identity of this government. Prophetically it was made known that he who was introduced as "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given" and that the "government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." (Isa. 9:6-7) This predictive determination is presented as sure and far-reaching in its accomplishment, and verily, the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform it! A reverent respect toward God in considering this expressed intention by Him should preclude or stifle every impulse to intrude one's self into the matter in any way other than as a humble volunteer in his service and pliant subject of his reign.

Absolute Monarchy

There are different forms of government, but the government which we are studying is one which rests on the shoulders of one, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not a limited monarchy (ruled by one), as is the king of England, where in current history he (or she, the Queen) is mostly a figure-head; but His is an absolute monarchy. His alone is the right and power to order and establish it henceforth and forever. The inauguration of His reign was suspended on some antecedent facts of a most stupendous character. His incarnation was necessary to His death, and His death to His resurrection, and His resurrection to His ascension and coronation as king. In other words, as Paul expressed "For to this end Christ both died, rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living." (Rom.14; 9) The implication is clear and unmistakable that He thus came, lived, died and rose from the dead that He might reign, not only over those living but over those who are dead. The terms, living and dead, are to be taken in their ordinary meaning as denoting physical life and physical death. He didn't do what was not necessary that He might so rule; therefore, no one other than He can rule over both the living and the dead. Others may and do rule over those who are living, but not over the dead.

This is a very vital and important distinction which, when made, will greatly enrich one's appreciation of the Lordship of Christ. First, those who are dead must be in a conscious state, otherwise the idea of being ruled by another is nonsensical. Too, the sphere of His dominion must extend beyond the earth for Him to so rule as Lord over the dead; hence, in contemplation thereof He was given "all authority both in heaven and on earth".

The apostle Paul tells us, "for this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named --". (Eph. 4:14-15.) God's family, then, is located as being both in heaven and earth, and this family is the church (1 Tim. 3:15), and the church is the kingdom (Matt. 16: 18-19)-insofar as identifying those who constitute the children of God.

The relation of being unto them a God and they unto Him as children is that which constitutes the house or family of God among men. Those persons, however, who are the children of God were at one time not His children. Therefore they were not then in His family, His church or kingdom. Should we, then, conclude that at that time and before the formation of this relationship they were not subject to the will of the Lord? If so, how can they be held amenable to it in the last day? But we know that all men shall be judged by Him who shall judge the quick and the dead, the righteous and the unrighteous in the last day. Therefore, they must be regarded as justly under obligation to be subjects of the king, and this could be true only on the assumption that He has rightful authority over all men, His reign extends rightly over the whole earth, and in this sense the kingdom is more extensive than the church. Let us explore briefly the extent and character of this dominion of Christ.

The physical universe is controlled by Him. In Heb. 1:1-4, we read: "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." Note that the writer in the delineation of the glorification, exaltation and enthronement of Jesus embodies therein the affirmation that He "upholds all things by the word of his power". I cannot see how one, in view of this statement, could fail to recognize that within the scope of His reign is that of upholding and controlling the whole universe. Corroborative of this is this statement: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him and for him, and he is before all things and by him all things consist. (Col. 1:16-17) That is, by Him all things stand together, consequently, if it were not for the authority He possesses and the power He exerts as responsive thereto the universe would disintegrate! Note that He made all things, and that in so doing they were created for Him. A denial of the incarnation, of the antecedent existence of this one of whom this language speaks, is to impeach His present sovereignty!

To bring into conscious focus and indulge in reflections on the existence and movements of this universe, and relate thereto the power by which all things are held together and enabled to function, provokes the most awesome contemplations. And then to identify the person as thus empowered and acting as the rightful sovereign of my life, my being and my destiny is the most soul-subduing and humbling of thoughts. It begets the most exulting and thrilling gratitude of which one is capable of possessing and cherishing. That is, as this grateful reflection is evoked by the recognition that He who thus controls all things has condescended to die for my sins and by the mercy and grace thus extended I am an heir of everlasting life. It is my persuasion that frequent and pious meditations in the vein of thought will be the most efficient influence in restraining and suffocating every antipathetic impulse arising toward the revealed will of Christ, and stir one from the benumbing apathy that he might be victim of. He who can still the tempest, and speak the dead to life certainly has the right to reign in our hearts and the power to direct our lives.

The Church - Christ's Possession

The church of Christ is essentially the possession of Christ. Those constituting it are persons who are His by virtue of redemption. They are a peculiar people, a purchased people. As such they are wholly amenable to His will. But how do these become His? By faith in and obedience to Him. Those outside Christ have no right to there remain. They are rightfully obligated to subject themselves to His sovereignty. They cannot remain aloof from and in rebellion to Him with impunity. But the fact that they are His rightful subjects, or rightfully obligated to submit to Him, rests on the fact that He died for them and rightfully reigns over them, and this because all authority in heaven and earth is His.

Our Savior taught respecting admission into His kingdom that except one be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter. Too, He said that not every one who says Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom, but he that doeth the will of the Father in heaven. Sectarians and denominationalists may register all the demurrers they wish against this divine dictum, but all to no avail, I fear. He who sits upon the throne is the only one who has the right to prescribe the conditions of citizenship; and for anyone who being in the kingdom, or thinking they are, to interpose their will and judgment variant to the divine pronouncement cannot please the Lord thereby. It isn't conceivable that a more arrogant spirit can be displayed than to so do, and a more certain course to provoke the divine displeasure possible. If, however, those who are the subjects of the Lord, citizens within His kingdom, members of His body of which He is the head, can recognize the necessity for complying with the terms of admission to citizenship, why cannot they all see the equal imperative of being wholly governed by His will in the kingdom? If the laws governing the service of those within can be altered, amended, modified or revoked, why cannot those having to do with one's entrance be altered or omitted? And that the thinking of men so progresses, note that where either obtains the other does or will develop. Find a religious body that flaunts the terms of pardon, and you will find the same disregarding the teaching of Christ to "observe all things I command you"; and, note any who within the church do the latter, and eventually they will be found guilty of the former!

The commission to the apostles to teach and baptize also enjoined them to teach the baptized to observe all the Lord commands. This excludes imposing anything He doesn't command and severely enjoins everything He does command. The line, therefore, is to be drawn clear and distinct between the two; namely, those things commanded as distinguished from those He has not commanded. There cannot be a whit difference between ignoring the one and imposing the other. If the apostles were thus directed, all that is proper for the rest of us is to learn what they taught and be wholly governed thereby. That which they bound was anteriorly bound in heaven, and that which they loosed was anteriorly loosed in heaven. For this reason only are they bound and loosed on earth, and therefore there is no originating of binding and loosing on earth by anyone, even the apostles themselves.

The Reign Of Christ

How does Christ "reign"? If He reigns over me there must be that communication of His will to me, and the apprehending of it by me; otherwise there can be no ruling by Him and subjection by me. Are there intermediaries between the King and His subjects who receive from him and deliver to the subjects? Certainly should there be such functionaries and if they interjected their will and presented it as the will of Christ, my obedience to it would not be an obedience to Christ, because that obeyed would be their will rather than his. Those entering the kingdom cannot so enter as responsive to the will of man. (John 1: 1 3) This being true how is it conceivable that the will of any man or men can intrude within the kingdom of Christ to form and determine the obedience rendered in service to the King? That such is being done is indisputable, but that it should be so is denied. The wise man observed that "where the word of a king is there is power" (Eccl. 8:4), and conversely it would be true that where the word of a king is not there is no power. This is supremely true with respect to the King! Since "all authority" is His, that leaves absolutely none for any other. I know of no statement which expressly declares or implicitly teaches that He has ever suffered the slightest diminution of authority since the day He took his seat at the right hand of God, and that as thus empowered He is to rule, and must rule, until the last enemy is destroyed. God gave it all to Him. Now either God took some of it back or He has Himself given some to others or else He now possesses all authority in heaven and earth. The latter must be true.

There is related an event in the life of Jesus of exceptional interest from several points of view. He was approached by a Centurion with a request that He heal a sick servant. Though he considered himself unworthy to come into the immediate presence of Jesus, and sent friends to present his appeal, he said "For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it". Jesus marveled at his faith. He had said that if Jesus but would speak the word only, his servant would be healed. In this request he expressed such faith as Jesus had not found in all Israel. But just what did this faith as thus recognized reflect? It certainly was an acknowledgement that Jesus had power, and such power as would effect the healing of this afflicted servant. Explanatory of this is the allusion to his own authority. He could command and those under him rendered immediate and full obedience. Correspondingly, Jesus could by his word command the disease to depart from the sick person. This was the faith of the Centurion. It was great because it knew no doubt of the ability and disposition of Jesus to meet this request.

This man's authority was political or rather military, hence having to do with a position in human government. In this sphere men do have authority to tell their subordinates to "go and he goeth, to come and he cometh, and to do this and he doeth it;" but it does not follow necessarily that such authority is characteristic of any in the kingdom of Christ. In fact, such is summarily denied by the Lord himself. The mother of Zebedee's children made a request concerning her sons that they be granted to sit one of his right hand, and one on his left in His kingdom. The response of Jesus to this is highly and enduringly significant. The ten other disciples were moved with indignation by this request for preference and preeminence for her sons. But Jesus called them unto Him and said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant." (Matt. 20: 25-28) The language; "it shall not be so among you" is emphatic and final; from it there can be no appeal, and of it there can be no alteration or impeachment. Any position taken in consequence of any reasoning employed which is at variance with this is indefensible. The study of any related subject which should lead one to a conclusion inharmonious with this fundamental principle needs to be corrected. Any practice within the church which will not correspond and coincide with this needs to be abandoned for the sake of men and the honor of Christ.

A Dispensation Of Grace

The reign of Christ is preeminently the dispensation of the grace of God. It is to be considered as the Divine dealing with man as designed to bestow the favor of God in the saving of man from sin and fitting him for heaven. It is therefore the dispensation of grace. Deity needs nothing from man; man needs everything from God. In the rule of Christ it is designed to promote man's good and complementary thereto the glory of God. This leaves no proper place and action for the will and wisdom of man, and thus the all-pervading will and wisdom of the Lord is his kingdom. A correct conception of the authority of Christ and accompanying respect and submission to it would have prevented every unhappy and injurious schism within the body of Christ, and for that reason affords the only solution and remedy for those existing. This lack of appreciation and regard for His absolute authority but leads to and genders the disposition of men to intrude their will into the affairs of the kingdom. There simply is no place therein for the assertion and imposition of the human will the spirit of the true follower of Christ should be, and must be, that of "not my will but thine be done". "Speak Lord thy servant heareth, command and I will obey" expresses the acceptable attitude and approach that gives impulse and direction to our every service to the Lord.

For one to call in question the scriptural authority of any given teaching or practice should not provoke resentment but evoke anxiety upon our part and impel us to re-examine the scriptures to "see whether or not these things are so." Resentment in such instances but indicates an undue value placed upon our own knowledge and wisdom, and belies that humility heaven invokes upon those who receive its smile of approval. The fact exists that we are subjects of the King, and His will is to be done in all things. "Whatsoever you do in word or in deed do all in the name of the Lord" imposes a continuing obligation to "Prove all things and hold fast that which is good." One cannot himself be too concerned as to the acceptability with the Lord of what he says and does, what he teaches and what he practices. This being true there is much to be gained and good effected by our mutual instruction and encouragement of one another to this end. This does not constitute any license for the captious minded and self-willed person, but is wholly discordant toward every such impulse of this sort.

No one can possibly form a just appreciation of the character and design of the reign of Christ, and then beholding developments both in the past and in the present within the kingdom find a real and substantial correspondence between the two. It is obvious that our present condition is the result of having forgotten the Lord in going to Him for the enlightenment of our hearts and the direction of our lives in His service. The Lord is not the author of confusion, and He hath called us to peace. Today there is the widespread presence of that and very little of this among the people of God.

Among those things in which Christ told His apostles to "teach them to observe all things I command you" are found such statements as these: "Be ye kindly affectioned one toward another"; "Let brotherly love continue"; "Having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, knowing that ye are thereunto called that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life and see good days let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile; let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and his ears are open unto their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." Warningly are we told to "take heed how we bite and devour one another lest we be consumed one of another." It requires no acute powers of perspicacity to see from these statements the salutary climate that is created and sustained by following these of another." It requires no acute powers of perspicacity to see from these statements the salutary climate that is created and sustained by following these instructions, and how by their absence the cause of Christ is made to suffer and the souls of saints gravely imperiled. Truly, the reign of heaven is the kingdom of God's love toward man, and of man's love for God and one another. Paul identifies our translation into the "kingdom of the Son of his love." (Col. 1:13).

Our king taught men, preparatory to His reign, that "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them". No one would that another misrepresent his position or impeach his character, bear false testimony against him or defraud him; consequently this severely enjoins everyone to never so act toward another. Too, everyone would have others be fair in their judgment of them, kind in their treatment of them, and courteous in their bearing toward them, consequently, it is incumbent upon all to so act toward all others. This injunction allows no deviation or revocation by anyone. True, in moments of weakness and under provocation we might violate its direction and thereby sin, but constantly forgiveness must be sought and improvement in character realized with an increasing strength of faith and purpose to enable one to rise progressively above this plane of recurring defection. This is the law of the Lord, and a failure to respect it and abidingly strive to exemplify increasingly its beauty and utility in our life is but to flaunt the authority of Christ. This cannot be done with impunity.